Although techniques and materials have changed, dentists still follow basic principles for treating tooth decay that date from the late 19th Century. And for good reason: They work. These principles first developed by Dr. G.V. Black—the "father of modern dentistry"—are widely credited with saving millions of teeth over the last century.
One of the most important of these treatment protocols is something known as "extension for prevention." In basic terms, it means a dentist removes not only decayed tooth structure but also healthy structure vulnerable to decay. But although effective in saving teeth, practicing this principle can result in loss of otherwise healthy tissue, which can weaken the tooth.
But with new advances in dentistry, decay treatment is getting an overhaul. While Dr. Black's time-tested protocols remain foundational, dentists are finding new ways to preserve more of the tooth structure in a concept known as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
Better diagnostic tools. Because tooth decay can ultimately infect and damage the tooth's interior, roots and supporting bone, the best way to preserve more of the tooth structure is to treat it as early as possible. Now, new diagnostic tools like digital x-rays, microscopic magnification and optical scanning are helping dentists detect and treat decay earlier, thus reducing how much tissue is removed.
Better prevention methods. Oral hygiene and regular dental care are our basic weapons in the war with tooth decay. In addition, utilizing topical fluoride in combination with a milk-derived product called CPP-ACP dentists can get more of the cavity-fighting organic compound into the tooth enamel to strengthen it against acid attack.
Better treatment techniques. Using air abrasion (a fine particle spray that works like a miniature sandblaster) and lasers, dentists can now remove decayed structure with less harm to healthy tissue than with a traditional dental drill. And new, stronger dental fillings like those made with composite resins require less structural removal to accommodate them.
With these innovative approaches, dentists aren't just saving teeth, they're preserving more of their structure. And that can improve your overall dental health for the long-term.
If you would like more information on minimally invasive dentistry, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Minimally Invasive Dentistry: When Less Care is More.”
You depend on your family dentist for most of your oral care. There are some situations, though, that are best handled by a specialist. If you or a family member has a deeply decayed tooth, for example, it might be in your long-term interest to see an endodontist.
From the Greek words, endo ("within") and odont ("tooth"), endodontics focuses on dental care involving a tooth's interior layers, including the pulp, root canals and roots. While general dentists can treat many endodontic problems, an endodontist has the advanced equipment and techniques to handle more complex cases.
The majority of an endodontist's work involves teeth inwardly affected by tooth decay. The infection has moved beyond the initial cavity created in the enamel and dentin layers and advanced into the pulp and root canals. The roots and underlying bone are in danger of infection, which can endanger the tooth's survival.
The most common treatment is root canal therapy, in which all of the infected tissue is removed from the pulp and root canals. Afterward, the empty spaces are filled and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent future infection. General dentists can perform this treatment, primarily with teeth having a single root and less intricate root canal networks. But teeth with multiple roots are a more challenging root canal procedure.
Teeth with multiple roots may have several root canals needing treatment, many of which can be quite small. An endodontist uses a surgical microscope and other specialized equipment, as well as advanced techniques, to ensure all of these inner passageways are disinfected and filled. Additionally, an endodontist is often preferred for previously root-canaled teeth that have been re-infected or conditions that can't be addressed by a traditional root canal procedure.
While your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for a problem tooth, you don't have to wait. You can make an appointment if you think your condition warrants it. Check out the American Association of Endodontists webpage www.aae.org/find for a list of endodontists in your area.
Advanced tooth decay can put your dental health at risk. But an endodontist might be the best choice to overcome that threat and save your tooth.
If you would like more information on endodontic dentistry, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Why See an Endodontist?”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
With summer winding down, parents are turning their attention to their kids' upcoming school year. August is often a busy time for families rushing to buy school supplies and fresh sets of clothes and shoes. Although hectic, these last few weeks before school starts are also ideal for focusing on dental health.
As you prepare for the school year, be sure to include these dental health items on your to-do list.
Make a dental appointment. Start the school year off right with a dental cleaning and checkup. Along with daily hygiene, dental visits are key to disease prevention and optimal oral health. Make those appointments early, though: Most dentists report an upsurge in patient visits this time of year.
And if you haven't already, set up an orthodontic evaluation: Having an orthodontist examine your child around age 6 could uncover an emerging bite problem. Early intervention might prevent the need for more costly future orthodontic treatments.
Plan for healthy school snacking. While kids are home on summer break, it's probably easier to keep an eye on the quality of their snacks. But being away from your watchful gaze at school means your children may encounter snacks that are not quite up to your tooth-healthy standards.
Even though schools adhere to federal nutrition standards for food provided on school property, many dentists don't believe they go far enough. Your kids' classmates can also be a source of unhealthy snack choices, so plan ahead to provide your kids an array of snacks to carry to school that they like and that support healthy teeth and a healthy body.
Get a custom mouthguard for your student athlete. If your child is going to play football, basketball or some other contact sport, make sure they have dental protection. A hard impact to the face can cause significant dental damage that's costly to treat, but a mouthguard worn during play can protect the teeth and gums by cushioning the blow.
You can purchase retail mouthguards at your local sporting goods store. Your best option, though, is a mouthguard custom-made by your dentist based on your child's individual mouth measurements. Although more expensive, custom mouthguards offer superior protection, and they're more comfortable to wear.
When the school bell rings, you want your kids as prepared as possible. Make sure their teeth and gums are ready too. If you would like more information about best practices for your child's dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Snacking at School” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
August is National Wellness Month. Since part of staying in good overall health is taking care of your dental health, it's a good time to look at ways you can improve and maintain your oral health. Here are some tips:
Practice good oral hygiene. A fundamental key to a long life of healthy teeth and gums is keeping them clean of dental plaque. This thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles is the number one cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing twice and flossing once each day gets rid of that unpleasant grittiness and reduces your risk of disease.
See your dentist regularly. A good daily oral hygiene habit works best at controlling soft plaque. But any that you miss—a possibility even with great brushing and flossing skill—can harden into calculus (tartar). To remove it, you'll need professional cleaning by a dental professional. The American Dental Association recommends a comprehensive dental cleaning at least twice a year to fully minimize your disease risk.
Eat a low-sugar, dental-friendly diet. Oral bacteria love to feast on the leftovers from your eating, especially sugar. So, cutting back on foods with added sugar isn't just good for other aspects of your health, it can also help "starve out" bacteria and reduce their population in your mouth. You can also boost oral health by eating foods rich in minerals like calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, and antioxidants that guard against oral cancer.
See your dentist at the first sign of problems. While hygiene, dental care and a nutritious diet can greatly reduce your risk of disease, it won't eliminate it completely. So see your dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums, mouth pain or unusual spots on your teeth. The sooner you're diagnosed and treated, the less damage from dental disease and future treatment expense you'll endure.
Manage other inflammatory conditions. If you're dealing with a condition like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, it could increase your risk of gum disease or make any occurrence of it worse. That's because gum disease and many systemic conditions share chronic inflammation as a common link. If an inflammatory condition is not managed through proper treatment, it could worsen any gum disease symptoms you have.
Pursuing wellness is a worthy goal—just be sure you include your oral health in the mix. A healthy mouth is a key ingredient for a healthy life. If you would like more information about gaining and maintaining optimum oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
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